by Jack Rasmus, December 17, 2020

As of mid-December 2020 the US economy has begun showing increasing signs of an exceptionally weak 4th quarter, October-December, growth. After having collapsed -10.5% in the March-June 2020 period, followed by a partial ‘rebound’ (not sustained recovery) in the 3rd quarter, July-September 2020, the economy is now slowing rapidly once again.

Dismal reports of consumer and especially retail sales in October-November appear driving the slowing growth—in turn driven by rising unemployment claims, a growing number of permanent layoffs by large businesses as the economy structurally changes long term, and, shorter term, by a sharp rise in Covid deaths, infections, and consequent partial shutdown of the services sector of the US economy throughout the US.

This scenario and trends has pushed more economists, mainstream included, to predict an even sharper 1st quarter 2021, contraction in the economy. Even a normally conservative forecast source like JPM Chase Bank’s research has raised the likelihood of a bona fide 2nd contraction of the US economy early next year—i.e. a ‘double dip’ recession, that this writer has been predicting since last March 2020.
The failure of both parties in Congress to pass a fiscal stimulus bill as late as mid-December 2020 has exacerbated the slowing economy and likelihood of a further contraction.

Ranks of Unemployed Rising; Benefits Falling

Latest initial unemployment benefit claims have risen, from the steady 1 million per week through the fall, to 1.28 million in early December, a weekly rise of 28%. As claims rise, a steady million per week have been exhausting their benefits for months. This is about to accelerate greatly, as a large block of 12 million are scheduled to end benefits by the last week of December.

Despite the US Labor Department’s monthly ‘low ball’ estimates of a jobless total of only 10.5 million and 6.7% unemployment rate, more than 20 million without jobs are still collecting unemployment benefits—twice the number the Labor Department and media consistently repeat as total jobless today!

Simultaneously, the ranks of the jobless without benefits, or having exhausted benefits, continues to rise as well. Four million workers have dropped out of the labor force altogether. Another 1-2 million have had to quit, in order to manage their K-6 grade children’s remote education. Millions are ‘furloughed’ at home with hope of at some point returning to work but not yet—a status the Labor Department erroneously calls working, and not unemployed, even though they aren’t being paid by their employers. (An error the Labor Dept. has made since last April, acknowledged it was an error, but has refused to correct nonetheless).

Easily at minimum 25 million American workers today as of December 2020 are jobless, either with or without benefits, not 10.5 million. And the unemployment rate is thus closer to 18%-19%–i.e. not even remotely close to the official, cherry-picked low ball number of 6.7% reported monthly by the Labor Department, which even most mainstream economists now ignore.

The Trump administration allowed the expiration of the supplemental $600/week unemployment benefits for millions of jobless last August. That reduced GDP spending by $65 billion a month (not counting multiplier effects on GDP of roughly 2X that amount). Some of that was restored for 5 weeks with $300 supplement unemployment benefits by Trump Executive Order in August. But the money was funded by reducing other government spending elsewhere, so there was no effective positive impact on total spending. That $65 billion (times 2X) negative spending effect on the US economy continued through December, and has no doubt played a part in the 4th quarter US consumer-retail spending slowdown.

The negative impact of reduced unemployment benefits is about to get much worse, however. The 12 million more that will lose benefits on December 26, 2020 is estimated to reduce household spending by another $150 billion per month (plus multiplier). Should current proposals restore half of that $600/wk., the negative household spending impact will still be $75 billion more in addition to the previous $65 billion reduction since August.

Renters’ Crisis Deepening

The real economy’s actual deteriorating condition is further illustrated by the renter crisis gaining momentum weekly. Of the 43 million total rental units in the US, 11.4 million are behind in their rents, averaging around $5,800 per household, for a total of $70 billion, according to the business research company, Moodys Analytics. As evictions moratorium ends in January 2021 many renters (mostly still unemployed) will not only have to start paying rents once again, but will have to make up the $70B in lost rent payments or still face evictions. Even after having been evicted, landlords will still legally pursue back payments.

The renewal of rent payments by renters, while still jobless, combined with back payments, will have a devastating impact on household spending and consumption in 2021, the latter of which accounts for 68% of all US economic spending and GDP.

Contrary to the media reporting, millions are already undergoing evictions and facing legal orders to repay back rents. The initial rent moratorium passed last March as part of the Cares Act (‘mitigation bill 1.0’) did not cover all renters, as the mainstream media consistently suggests, but covered mostly those whose housing was associated with government aid by the HUD and FHA agencies. States and cities in some cases had initiated local moratoria . But most of those local moratoria expired months ago. Trump’s Executive Order last August 2020 extended rent moratorium on federally supported rent units, but only until end of December 2020.

Issued by the Trump administration’s CDC in September, Trump’s EO for rent moratorium expiration will result in 2.4 to 5 million of renters evicted in January 2021 alone, with millions more per month thereafter, according the Wall St. Journal. Moreover, the Trump EO did not prevent landlords from initiating legal action to evict. Hundreds of thousands of evictions are already in progress and legally proceeding in cities across the US, per the Princeton University Evictions Lab. Most heavily impacted are minority households. A recent survey by the US Census Bureau indicates 32% of black renters and 18% of Hispanic renters were behind on rent payments, and about 12% of white renting households.

Homeowners Mortgages Crisis Brewing

While the picture is not as dire for homeowners as for renters, it too is deteriorating and will be intensifying in 2021.
There are 82 million single homes in the US. 49 million (62%) have mortgages. At present 3.6 million are in forbearance, meaning mortgage payments have been temporarily suspended. Suspended payments will have to resume in 2021, however, much like rent back payments suspended require payment. Like renters, homeowners may have to double up on mortgage payments, in whole or part, commencing 2021. It is estimated that 6.8% of homeowners have missed payments in 2020. That’s 5.5 million of homeowners—i.e. the 3.6 million in forbearance but another 1.9 million not and who have been missing monthly mortgage payments.

The percentages and totals for mortgage payments in arrears may seem less a problem than the renters’ missed payments. But the totals are actually far greater in terms of back money owed: all the deferred and missed mortgage payments amount to $752 billion in back payments that have to be made up. That make up will reduce household spending by another hundreds of billions of dollars in 2021, with further negative impact on US GDP in 2021.

Student Loan Forbearance Ending

Like renters and homeowners, the March 2020 Cares Act permitted suspension and deferral of student loan payments until year end 2020. Also like rent and mortgages, however, that deferral is scheduled to end in 2021. Students will have to make up payments and in effect ‘double down’ on payments in most cases.

The negative impact on ‘doubling down’ and making up lost payments is massive. There are 44.7 million student loans in the US, averaging $36,500. Hundreds of thousands own much more. Many more than $100,000. 35 million of the 44.7 million student loans were in forbearance in 2020 and the deferred principal will have to be repaid. The total principal alone, temporarily deferred, amounts to $777 billion in arrears.

Payroll Tax Deferrals

When Trump and his negotiators abruptly broke off negotiations on the fiscal stimulus bill in August 2020, they issued 4 Executive Orders with 24 hours (thus indicating they had planned to do so from the beginning, after having lured Pelosi-Shumer and the Democrats to reduce their May 2020 $3.2 trillion original stimulus proposal called the Heroes Act by $1 trillion).

Among the Trump four EOs was one that deferred payroll taxes of 6.2% for workers for the rest of 2020. (The other three EOs were the temporary substitution of $300/wk. supplemental unemployment benefits for five weeks; extending student loan forbearance to end of December; and the CDC’s partial extension of rent moratorium for 5 million renters). The EO affecting payroll taxes was clearly unconstitutional. Only Congress could change tax laws. But Trump went ahead anyway with the 6.2% payroll tax deferral. Not all businesses followed suit, however.

Since employers by law are responsible for collecting payroll taxes, they knew they were on the hook to repay the deferred 6.2% in 2021. They would have to add 6.2% to their employer share of 6.2% nonetheless in 2020 and then repay that in 2021. That meant doubling up on paying their share and their workers’ share of 6.2% (deferred September to December 2020) starting January 2021.

It could mean paying payroll taxes of twice that 12.4% in 2021, however. Employers were allowed to temporary suspend their 6.2% payroll taxes since March 2020, and starting repaying that deferred amount plus new payroll taxes by end of 2021. Not many wanted to face the prospect of paying double payroll taxes for both themselves, the company, and collecting and paying double for their workers as well—or 24.8% in payroll taxes. So most opted out of the Trump EO and didn’t stop their workers from paying the 6.2% in 2020.

Most large corporations opted out, including GM, UPS, Fedex, Costco, grocery chains, health companies, big Pharma, utilities, and many states as well. Trump forced federal government employees to suspend their payroll tax payments, September-December 2020. Other states and local governments did so as well. Starting January 2021 now many will have to start paying double payroll taxes. That will in turn reduce millions of public employees’ available disposable income for consumption in 2021. And that too will reduce US GDP in 2021.

Small Business Collapsing

Even greater magnitude of potential negative impact on the US economy is the current accelerating closing of many small businesses. There are an estimated 30 million small businesses in the US economy, which include millions of small ‘independent contractors’. Estimates by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the trade organization for small business, are 3.3 million have permanently closed as of November 1, 2020. More than 110,000 restaurants, or every one of six. Hundreds of thousands more restaurants, bars, entertainment, travel, and related service small businesses are likely to close over the coming winter months. The impact on consumption, as well as business spending and unemployment, promises to be significant—and in addition to all the preceding negative effects on the US economy.

What is especially concerning about this scenario is that ever since August 2020 the Trump administration has sat on $135 billion in unspent funds allocated by the March 2020 Cares Act for loans and grants for small businesses assistance. $670 billion total was approved by the Cares Act for the PPP program, as it was called, to provide assistance to small business. Much of that was siphoned off and redirected to larger businesses. Millions of very small businesses received nothing. Despite the need in August, the program was ended in August with $135 billion unspent.

From Stimulus to Mitigation 2.0 Negotiations

What started out as a true economic stimulus bill in the form of the Heroes Act, passed by the US House last May 2020, has by mid-December collapsed into a partial economic ‘mitigation’ bill. Mitigation means just buying time until a true fiscal stimulus can be introduced. Mitigations simply slow down the economic collapse and crisis temporarily, to buy time. True stimulus proposals do just that: generate economic growth that is sustained for months and years to come.

The May 2020 Heroes Act was a true stimulus, proposing $3.2 trillion in new spending across a broad set of programs. It was immediately rejected by McConnell and the Trump administration, both of whom then played ‘hard cop/soft cop’ in negotiations with Democrats over the next six months. In August 2020 Democrat negotiators, Pelosi and Shumer, were lured into reducing their package of Heroes Act spending by $1 Trillion, down to $2.2T, in expectation—signaled by the Trump administration it would similarly respond with a major counteroffer to the Democrats $1 trillion proposal reduction. But they didn’t. Trump’s negotiators, Mnuchin and Meadows, simply walked out of negotiations after Pelosi-Shumer had come down $1 trillion. Meanwhile, McConnell sat back watching the show, holding firm on his no more than $500 billion spending proposal he offered in June.

As the 2020 election grew closer, Trump-Mnuchin offered several new proposals—without any details—to ensure it appeared they were interested in a deal. The latest in October was reportedly as high as $1.8 trillion. It appeared a deal was possible, with the Democrats at $2.2 trillion since August. However, McConnell scuttled the negotiations by making it clear he would not approve more than his $500 billion. Having been burned the previous August, Pelosi and Shumer did not ‘bite’ at the Trump shadow offer, correctly assuming it was pre-election posturing. Had they done so, Trump would have taken credit; no deal would have been reached; and McConnell would have stalled discussions—as he has ever since to the present.

Following the election in November 3, the next development was Mnuchin recalling $455 billion in unused funds from the Federal Reserve given to the central bank the preceding April as part of the Cares Act. That was to be used to help bail out businesses. The Fed did not use much of the Cares Act given it by the US Treasury and Congress, including $135 billion unspent on the small business aid program called the Payroll Protection Program, PPP. That program ended in August, but the Fed held onto the $135 billion, as well as other funds for medium sized and larger businesses and various financial markets. The total unspent came to $455 billion, which Mnuchin then told the Fed to return to the Treasury, which it did. Both Mnuchin and McConnell would use the $455 billion to pay for McConnell’s $500 billion long-standing offer in stimulus negotiations in December.

To attempt to break the bargaining logjam, in December a bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives offered a compromise package of $908 billion. There were no $1200 income checks, only half of unemployment benefits for only 90 days, no aid to state and local governments, and numerous other provisions missing from the Democrats’ $2.2 trillion package on the bargaining table. Nevertheless, McConnell still rejected the $908B compromise. He then cleverly offered to drop his ‘stalking horse’ proposal for business blanket liability if the Democrats dropped their $160 billion in aid to state and local governments.

In the latest iteration of the negotiation charade, the bipartisan group on December 14, 2020 revised their $908B proposal, reducing it to $748 billion by taking out the $160B for state and local government. It split its prior single $908B offer into two parts: one with the state-local government aid and the business liability; the other with all the remaining proposals it had originally offered.

As of mid-December, the proposal on the table by the bipartisan group, accepted in principle by the Democrats but not McConnell, is as follows:

+ Unemployment half benefits at $300/wk through March 2021
+ PPP small business funding of $300B, now with no need to use to pay workers’ wages
+ $45B for airlines & transport businesses (despite airlines with $billions of cash on hand)
+ No $1200 checks
+ Student loan forbearance continued for 3 more months
+ Renter evictions moratorium continued for one month
+ $82 billion for education
+ $13 billion for emergency food assistance
+ $35 billion for health care providers
+ $13 billion more for farmers & agribusiness (after receiving $70B since 2019)
+ $25 billion rent assistance (payable to landlords)

The important point of the total $748B, however, is that it too is a temporary ‘mitigation’ proposal—not a true stimulus bill.
Like the March 2020 Cares Act, also a mitigation bill, it will only buy a little more time for an economy clearly in a deep slowdown in the 4th quarter and on the brink of another double dip recession in 2021, if one were to agree with Chase bank!

The Cares Act of March was only $1.1 to $1.5 trillion in actual spending—not the $3 trillion mainstream media often noted. $650 billion of $3 trillion was business tax cuts that were mostly hoarded. And more than $1.1 trillion for medium and big business bailouts that didn’t happen by the Fed loans, the funds of which were returned to the Treasury in December. Big businesses were bailed out, but via Fed other $3 trillion plus money injections into the banks and markets—not by the Cares Act.

So the Cares Act was a temporary mitigation bill that ran out of spending by late summer. And the bipartisan group proposal of $748 billion is an even smaller mitigation bill that will run out of funds well before next spring.

There is, and there has been, no fiscal stimulus since the crisis began. Nor is a stimulus on the horizon. More importantly, what this means for the economy is that the lack of a true fiscal stimulus for 2021 means the double dip recession looms ever larger on the horizon now! Unemployed workers, renters and homeowners, student debt, double taxed workers, and small businesses will get another temporary partial assistance. And should the Democrats not win both seats in the Georgia Senate runoff elections on January 5, 2021, McConnell will retain control of the Senate and it will be four more years of ‘No, No, No’ in help to those truly in need. The implications of that for the US economy, and for Democrats in 2022 mid-term elections, is obvious. But that’s the likely intention and game plan of McConnell and the Trumpublicans no doubt.


by Jack Rasmus, December 22, 2020

As the 2020 year closes, Congress is about to pass a $900B Covid Relief spending bill. But make no mistake. It’s Senate leader Mitch McConnell’s proposal. And it will hardly dent the rapidly slowing US economy this 4th quarter and the increasingly forecasted coming double dip recession early next year.

The new spending shouldn’t be confused as a ‘stimulus’ bill. It won’t stimulate the economy much, if at all. A stimulus requires significant net new spending. Most of the deal is just a continuation of past spending levels, and in some notable examples it’s a reduction in spending levels. The same can be said for the companion legislation to keep the US federal government funded. That’s another $1.4 trillion. But that too is just continuation spending. Nevertheless, we hear from the mainstream media it’s a $2.3 trillion total spending package, the second largest in US history (the first largest being the past March Cares Act which the same media keeps misrepresenting as a $3 trillion package).

For the record, the $3T Cares Act amounted only to $1.4 trillion actual spending that got into the US economy. More than $1 trillion in loans initially earmarked for medium and large corporations, and 11 financial markets, never got spent by the Federal Reserve. In addition, $650 billion of the $3T was actually tax cuts for investors and businesses. That’s mostly been hoarded. The only actual spending that got into the real economy and GDP was the $500 billion for income checks and unemployment benefits for workers, plus $525 billion in loans and grants for 5 million of the 31.7 million US small businesses, plus another $100B or so to the Federal Reserve’s ‘Main St.’ lending programs and less than $100B for other Fed lending. So the much touted March Cares Act actual spending was less than half the media’s reported $3T.

It’s Mitch McConnell’s Bill

Since the passage of the Cares Act in March (with a supplement in April), McConnell has insisted a follow up package would be no more than $500 billion. That’s been his position since last June. The Pelosi-Shumer team passed a $3.2 trillion true stimulus proposal in the US House called the Heroes Act in late May. McConnell rejected it out of hand and has done so for the past six months.

Pelosi-Shumer reduced their $3.2 trillion to $2.2 trillion in August. That too was rejected by McConnell and the Trump administration, who have been engaged in a phony tactical ‘hard cop/soft cop’ negotiation since July designed to break down the Democrats’ proposals. They have finally succeeded in the $900 billion deal about to be signed. The Democrats, as they guessed, finally capitulated at the 11th hour.

Here’s why the $900B is McConnell’s proposal: It amounts to the $500 billion he insisted on since last June plus the $435 billion that Treasury Secretary, Mnuchin, clawed back from the Federal Reserve earlier this month. That’s the roughly $900 billion that McConnell has agreed to.

The $435B clawed back from the Fed was money the Democrats agreed to in the March Cares Act to be given to the Fed to loan out to medium and big corps, theoretically to companies that would invest it and expand production and hiring. It didn’t happen. Big corporations in particular didn’t want the money from the Fed and its banks. They were already flush with cash. In terms of corporate bonds alone, Fortune 500 corporations alone had raised more than $2.2 trillion—thanks to the Fed’s other policy of reducing interest rates (and bond rates) to near zero.

So the money parked with the Fed in March was never used, and Mnuchin simply took it back earlier this month, gave it to McConnell, which the latter added to his $500 billion. And there you have it. Voila! The $900B forthcoming deal.

The McConnell package

· $325 billion for small business grants ($135 billion of which was left over from March)
· $166B in $600 one time income checks (cut by half from $1200) for working families with incomes less than $100k/year
· $120B in $300/wk. unemployment benefits (for 90 days, & at half former $600/wk)
· $45B for transport (including $15B for airlines already sitting on $billions of cash)
· $13B for food stamps (despite 20% American families now officially food deprived)
· $25B for rent assistance (for one month moratorium on rent evictions for 11.4 million behind on their rents owed totaling more than $70 billion)
· The rest for schools, vaccine distribution, hospitals, and other spending

The reduction in the level of the unemployment benefits and the one time income checks represents at least $150B to $200B a month, every month, taken out of previous levels of household spending. That’s not counting its ‘multiplier effect’. That’s a hundreds of billions of dollars of reduction in consumer spending and therefore US GDP that will hit the economy come January!

Just maintaining prior levels of spending has already resulted in a rapidly slowing US economy this fourth quarter 2020.

US Economy Sliding into Double Dip

After having collapsed quarter to quarter by -10.5% in early 2020, the economy briefly rebounded in part as the economy prematurely reopened in the third quarter 2020. That was a 7.4% rebound off the -10.5% collapse. In other words, only 2/3 of what was lost in GDP terms. But that tepid rebound (not to be confused with a sustained recovery) has relapsed seriously this current 4th quarter. Many economists’ estimates, even mainstreamers, is the US GDP will grow at best around 1.5% this quarter—i.e. down from 7.4%.

Retail sales turned slightly negative in October and then sharply fell by -1.1% for the recent month of November. It will likely turn even more negative in December. Even the much announced gains in Manufacturing and Construction—together barely 20% of the economy—are now showing signs of slowing. Indicators of industrial production and manufacturing in the Chicago area and Mid-Atlantic states are slowing sharply.

More economists are forecasting a broad economic contraction—i.e. a technical double dip recession—in the coming January-March period. That includes JP Morgan bank’s research. A condition that this writer predicted last March when the economic crisis emerged. As in all cases of Great Recessions, double dips typically occur, and sometimes triple dips. The 2020 Great Recession 2.0 today is no exception.

It is in this context of a sharply slowing US economy fourth quarter, and a growing likelihood of a second bona fide contraction in early 2021, that Congress is about to pass the $900 billion McConnell package.

It’s important to understand that it’s not at all an economic stimulus proposal. It’s the weakest of possible ‘mitigation’ bills. Mitigation is about just buying time (30-90 days) until a real stimulus can be passed. Even the Cares Act of last March was acknowledged as a mitigation measure, not a stimulus, bill by its Congressional proponents.

This McConnell $900B proposal is even less a mitigation measure. It’s more a temporary palliative at best, buying 60 days of a partial offset to a coming contraction.

Moreover, one should not assume all the $900B—or even a part of it—will actually get in to the real US economy. Apart from the reduction in unemployment benefit levels, not all of the $325B money earmarked for small business PPP will be spent soon, or even at all. Studies and research shows that the PPP program of last March did not all go to those small businesses that needed it most. And much of it was used not to retain workers and wages, as the legislation proposed in March, but went to pay down business debt or was used to increase business savings that were subsequently then stuffed into business bank accounts by those businesses that scammed and skimmed off the PPP funding.

With virtually no oversight in the case of the $525B PPP from last March’s Cares Act having occurred over the past nine months, it will be significant if even half of the $325 billion is actually spent. The same can be said for much of the $44B now allocated for the airlines and other transport businesses. And even in the case of the $82B targeted for schools and colleges. It won’t all be actually spent and therefore will provide no actual stimulus or mitigation to the real economy.

In short, out of the $900B will be 2/3 at best actually spent and entering the US economy and GDP next quarter. That’s not much of even a ‘mitigation’, given the accelerating slowdown of the US economy at year’s end 2020 now underway.

The Corporate Democrats’ Spin is In

Nevertheless, Democrat party leaders—i.e. the corporate wing of that party—are spinning the capitulation to McConnell as just the first of further coming legislation after Biden is inaugurated January 20, 2021. That’s how they’re selling it to John Q. Public.
But don’t expect much in terms of fiscal spending legislation forthcoming after January 2021. That’s especially true if McConnell remains in control of the Senate, which is more likely than not, and it’s especially the case if Republicans win at least one of the Georgia Senate run off elections on January 5, 2021. McConnell will continue to say ‘No No No’ to just about everything proposed in Congress should he retain control of the Senate.

Democrats are naïve to think that, after having agreed to $900B, that McConnell after only 45 days will agree to anything more in terms of emergency fiscal spending come February-March 2021!

In this scenario, as the US economy likely slips into a double dip recession next year Biden will be relegated to any new spending via Executive Order and other presidential actions. But his already announced policy of resurrecting bipartisanship with McConnell will ensure Biden will go slow, if go at all, in terms of governing by Executive Order. He could do a lot, but he won’t. He’ll extend the bipartisan hand to McConnell again, as had Obama for years; and again the Republican dog will bite the hand and little will change.
In summary, what we have in the pending $900B ‘relief bill’ is virtually no relief at all. Even for the next 90 days; it’s a partial relief, a palliative that barely even qualifies as a mitigation. The $900B will definitely not turn around the impetus and trajectory of a rapidly slowing US economy and the likely coming double dip recession approaching in 2021.

But what’s to worry? The stock markets are hitting records daily. Money from the Fed for investing by corporations, hedge funds, private equity firms, and other professional speculators is virtually free. More business tax cuts are being added in the pending legislation to the $650B passed last March in the Cares Act (and the $4T passed before that in 2018-19). The 651 US billionaires added $1T to their wealth in just the last eight months!

Besides, Trump’s leaving the White House…maybe! (if he doesn’t declare martial law first).